Smart city technology: Here’s what the future holds

September 12, 20194 minute read

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When you hear the term “city of the future,” you might imagine a clean, well-planned, glittering metropolis bustling with flying cars, robotic servants, and holograms. Our minds conjure scenes from iconic sci-fi creations like “The Fifth Element” or “The Jetsons”—depending on our age.

But the truth is, the smart city technology of the future will look a lot like any city’s tech does today with a few tweaks. While earth-shaking innovations like Elon Musk’s proposed underground transportation tunnels may eventually reshape your commute, many of the smaller, incremental changes based on smart city technology will likely go mostly undetected by the general population.

In fact, in many places, these changes are already happening. So what exactly is a smart city, and what will smart cities mean for the future of life and work? Here’s what you need to know.

What is smart city technology?

A smart city is a city that leverages the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect and interpret data, which is then used to optimize resources and reduce waste. The goal of a smart city is to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of a variety of municipal systems, such as the water supply, the power grid, transportation networks, waste management services, schools, hospitals, and more. Ultimately, effective smart technology will help urban areas lower costs and reduce resource consumption as it improves the resident experience.

Smart city technology includes everything from IoT sensors to AI tech, machine learning, robotics, virtual and augmented reality, and more. And it’s no passing fad. Smart city tech spending is expected to reach $135 billion by 2021, according to a report by IDC. Cities like Amsterdam, Dubai, Madrid, Singapore, and even Columbus, Ohio are already implementing smart systems to help improve environmental sustainability, public safety, and air quality.

How will living in a smart city affect daily life?

Life in a smart city will generally be the same, but ideally it will be safer and more convenient. Here are three examples of how:

Transportation

Traffic congestion and dangerous intersections can cause frustrations and safety risks for busy commuters, but something as simple as an IoT sensor on a traffic light could collect data about how many vehicles move through each day and when peak travel times occur and then adjust light patterns accordingly. Traffic lights in crowded thoroughfares can remain green longer during rush hours rather than giving way to lighter side street traffic, altering behavior in real-time to account for inclement weather, traffic jams, emergency response vehicles, and other day-to-day variances in citizens’ commutes.

Energy

Urban areas are notorious for energy waste, but smart tech can help overcome this challenge. For example, the city of San Leandro, California converted more than 4,800 street lights to LED smart bulbs, which are connected to a low-power wireless personal area network (WPAN) and the city’s fiber-optic network, according to IoT World Today.

These smart bulbs collect data and send it to city staff for analysis. Lights can be individually controlled to conserve power, and when a bulb isn’t functioning properly, the city gets an alert so proactive measures can be taken to repair or replace it. City officials expect to save more than $8 million in energy costs over the 15-year project lifespan—money which could potentially be reinvested into further improving public services.

Public health

Smog is one of the more challenging aspects of planning and operating in a crowded city. Pollution from vehicle and industrial emissions can exacerbate numerous health problems, including asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis (especially in children and the elderly). This is, of course, on top of the unpleasant smell and poor visibility that often come with smog, but some smart cities are working to give residents better access to clear air.

London, for example, used connected sensor data to identify pollution “hot spots” and worked with the company Airlabs to set up clear air zones at bus stops in highly polluted areas, according to HealthXL. The anti-pollution technology draws in dirty air from the street and releases clear air inside, which helps to reduce the number of air contaminants commuters breathe in each day.

What about IoT in the workplace?

As an IT pro, you’re probably already considering all the ways you could leverage similar technologies within your own environment. IoT in the workplace can offer organizations numerous ways to cut costs, increase sustainability, reduce waste, and achieve other positive outcomes.

Smart infrastructure technology can help IT and facilities managers work together to collect and analyze huge amounts of data and then use that information to fuel better decision-making. The same type of technology you may already use to monitor server performance and anticipate end-of-lifecycle can be used to monitor air filtration systems, HVAC systems, electrical systems, and more.

Additionally, services like HP Managed Print Services use smart technology to collect data across an entire fleet of printers and help companies to identify usage patterns and find ways to be more efficient and reduce expenses. When you streamline your printing with features like automatic double-sided printing and user-authenticated print jobs, you can work to advance your organizational sustainability goals too.

Smart cities powered by the IoT aren’t just a dream of tomorrow, they’re the tech of today. The tech is waiting to be scaled up and put to work on a metropolitan scale, and by investing in the right infrastructure for your organization, you can reap the benefits and overcome current obstacles as you anticipate the challenges of tomorrow.

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